The House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is considering the issues raised by the possibility of flying cars in U.S. skies and late last month held the first congressional hearing on the topic, called "Urban Air Mobility - Are Flying Cars Ready for Take-Off?"
Terrafugia's Transition® production vehicle, a unique two-seat automotive vehicle and light sport aircraft. The Transition is built
for both aviation and automotive safety to comply with Federal Aviation Administration and National Highway
and Traffic Safety Administration standards. Plans are for the first production vehicles to come to market in 2019.
(Photo courtesy Terrafugia
Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, is excited about the possibility. "For decades, flying cars have been the object of our imagination. They represent aspiration, innovation and the freedom of exploration," Smith said in his opening statement.
"Several weeks ago," Smith said, "I was walking on the Mall and noticed a boy operating a remote-control flying car—the first one I’ve ever seen. I immediately sent off for one and flew it recently with a young friend. It exceeded my expectations. In fact, I liked it so much that I ordered one for each of our witnesses today and for all the Members who attend this hearing."
Advances in lithium-ion battery technology, computing power and electric propulsion are providing companies with the tools they need to turn science fiction into science fact, he said.
One company, Terrafugia, says that their two-seat auto and aircraft vehicle could be available as soon as next year. It’s called the Transition® and can drive like a car, fit into a standard garage, and be flown in and out of over 5,000 local airports.
The Transition will drive in hybrid mode, using a combination of an internal combustion engine and a lithium iron phosphate battery, proven to be much safer than other lithium battery chemistries, some of which are liable to catch fire.
Terrafugia CEO Chris Jaran says, “We are at the critical point where we can implement the best design features based on years of flight and drive testing. This will improve function, safety and aesthetics for the optimal flying and driving experience."
Smith told the Committee hearing, "Uber has a bold timeline to make air-based on-demand transportation available to the public in five years. Companies like Bell are working to design and build the vehicles that will operate on the network envisioned by Uber."
Top Democrat on the Committe Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas said flying cars are coming sooner than we think, "Many companies believe that we are on the threshold of revolutionary changes brought about by a new generation of vehicles," she said.
A National Academies study found in 2014 that increasingly autonomous aircraft “pose serious questions about how they will be safely and efficiently integrated into the existing civil aviation structure."
A fully autonomous aircraft would not require a pilot but would be able to operate independently within civil airspace, interacting with air traffic controllers and other pilots just as if a human pilot were on board and in command.
Challenges include accurately predicting the behavior of systems that can adapt to changing conditions, resolution of regulatory and certification requirements, and new safety regulations so flying cars can safely operate in the airspace above cities. A major challenge will be integrating UAM operations into the national airspace.
Eric Allison, head of Aviation Programs for Uber Technologies, Inc., told the House panel about Uber's flying car program, Elevate.
"Elevate is our future uberAIR product that aims to allow anyone to push a button and get a flight. To achieve this, we are developing a real-time, on-demand network of air vehicles to deliver time savings to riders on a massive scale," said Allison.
"We are developing uberAIR because we believe aerial ridesharing has the potential to radically improve urban mobility. Every year, millions of hours are wasted in traffic on roads worldwide," he said. "...moments stuck on the road represent less time with family, fewer hours growing our economies, and more money spent polluting our world."
Said Chairman Smith, "I look forward to the day when I can take off in a flying car."
By Sunny Lewis
Environment News Service (ENS)
August 6, 2018